I’ve never really liked Peter Pan—but after the Hippodrome’s stunning production of Finding Neverland, I just might have to give it a second chance.
The musical opens with an introduction to protagonist J.M. Barrie, played by the handsome and charismatic Billy Harrigan Tighe. Barrie is in a bit of a creative rut—his latest work has been less than well-received, and his benefactor Charles Frohman (TV great John Davidson) is itching for a hit. As Barrie muses about his creative life in London (in song, of course), he happens upon a troupe of young boys, the Llewelyn-Davies, playing in the park. (Among them is their ultra-serious brother, Peter, who doesn’t see the point in pretending—but it only takes one good song-and-dance number to turn his frown upside down.) The boys’ creativity inspires Barrie; soon, he’s meeting with them every day to play, growing closer to their widowed mother, Sylvia, and inviting them to dinner parties (much to the dismay of his wife, Mary).
Barrie is beyond charming, and his energy is as infectious as that of the sweet child actors in the production (and the adorable real-life dog, who scampers across the stage from time to time). Songs like “Believe” and “We Own the Night” are positively grin-inducing, aided by the outstanding staging—the company and choreography are stellar.
But all good things, of course, must come to an end…or, at the very least, a pre-intermission climax. Barrie’s wife leaves him, Frohman hates his new play idea (inspired by the wild adventures he cooked up with the Llewellyn-Davies boys) and Sylvia discourages her children from continuing to play with him. Fortunately, all of these setbacks are only fuel for his creative fire—and a villain is born in the form of wisecracking Captain James Hook (also played by the hilarious Davidson).
With a proper antagonist, Barrie’s play takes shape, and is soon preparing for production. Despite their initial resistance, the cast eventually embraces the show’s childlike sense of adventure and wonder—which, coincidentally, is precisely what happened to me as I sat in the audience. My Peter Pan prejudice faded, and though things took a bit of a turn for a tragic, the soaring storyline and superior staging (at one point I won’t spoil here, it quite literally took my breath away) made me wish I would never grow up—or at least leave the theater.